Nov 012013
 

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The I SHOT IT Leica X2 Contest – NO ENTRY FEE!

Check this out! You guys know I have talked about I-SHOT-IT in the past and actually, the last three winners of the Leica Monochrom were actually readers of this site who went there to enter after I posted about it here. $20k plus a Monochrom..what a prize..and the ones who won them did so with their sheer talent. So I am proud of this fact :)

The reason I am writing now is that I-SHOT-IT is now giving away a Leica X2 valued at nearly $2000 and ANYONE can enter for FREE. No entry fee required. With the big prizes like the cash and Monochrom, a $20 fee was required to enter. This is how they paid for the massive prize. But today you can go enter this one at no cost, so it is well worth it to get your photo in.

It is all about CLOUDS this time, so whatever you enter must have clouds in the photo.

So check it out HERE and give it a go. When it ends YOU just might be the lucky winner of that Leica X2!

Sep 252013
 

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Caucasus with a Leica MM, APO50 and X2

By Malik Abbassi-Antoine

Welcome to my 10 days road trip to the wonderful countries of Armenia and Georgia with a Leica Monochrom coupled with the incredible 50APO Summicron and a Leica X2.

Hello Steve and everyone. Thanks for sharing a little bit of your space and attention with me today. I always enjoy passing by and discovering your reviews or your readers’ field tests that are very often interesting and esthetically nice. So that’s pretty cool to contribute and have the chance to speak to a wider audience today.

1. Heading to Yerevan

Like many of you I have GAS. I know it’s bad but I have GAS. However, for nearly one year I am in love. Yes, one year ago my Leica dealer called me and told me about a new drug I could be interested in. The thing they name Monochrom. A black and white only device. Well, why not I thought, let’s give it a try. And that’s what I did. Immediate addiction. Few shots and it was done, it was home with me. And I am in love since then. Monochrom is a remedy to GAS, Monochrom is bringing me back to Monogamy.

Monochrom is all I need: The perfect combination of past and present. It is a Leica rangefinder, has a blowing dynamic range and high ISO capabilities. All I need when 99% of my M9P shots were converted in B+W. So I sold the M9P keeping MM as the only one digital device. But I had plenty of lens and just two M bodies. Brainstorming every time I wanted to go out and shoot: What lens shall I take? Worst when I was out: Oh, shall I shoot with the 35, 50 or 75, no maybe I need the 21…. Waste of time. Missing the point, missing where I should have really been focusing on: My subject. Therefore missing l’instant décisif praised by HCB. So I have started to think I should be selling off my lenses, keeping just one, a 50, my favorite one, so that I could improve my work and get concentrated on one thing: What I see in the rangefinder and where I go. And came the famous 50APO Summicron that I have been lucky enough to find fairly easily and rapidly. Perfect match, while the MM brought me back to Monogamy, 50 APO brought the MM to Monogamy. Perfect world… although I have to admit I still sometimes cheat on my MM with a X2 for landscapes and things that need to be color.

7. Dames - Goris

3. Thoughts in the Gas

Here we are in July 2013. 10 days off from work: The opportunity to see what I can do with “just” a MM coupled with an APO50 and a X2. The opportunity to rest and discover new things, satisfy my curiosity. Where to go to? What to do? Wanted something new, something far without being too far from Paris as 10 days are a short timeframe. Somewhere enriching, somewhere with a great cultural heritage, somewhere preserved from mass tourism, somewhere with some landscape diversity, somewhere new. Armenia and Caucasus came quickly in my mind… Read a lot about Armenia first: its history rich of thousands of years, Noah and the Arch on the Ararat (actually in Turkey nowadays but a strong symbol for Armenian people), churches and monasteries from the 4th, 5th, 6th centuries everywhere, mountains, the lake Sevan, the Karabagh, the war with Azerbaijan, hospitality of the Armenians, the wine, their lovely alphabet, among others…. So deal done, it had to be Armenia and Caucasus.

9. Cascades 1 - Yerevan

11. Spices shop - Tbilisi

And there we went for a 10 days trip on the Armenian roads –which as the title says also brought us in Tbilisi-Georgia for a short visit. We hired Garik, our driver, in Yerevan and we drove: Yerevan, Chor Virap, Goris, Stepanakart, Shushi, Sevan, Dilijan, Tbilissi and many other places. MM to shoot the streets / people with the 50APO and a X2 to shoot landscapes while in or out of the car.

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4. Horse in the Mist

Simple but challenging method. Why? Well, hard white light from 10am to 5pm and 50mm is a bit narrow for street. I have been very frustrated at the beginning, and above all, very disappointed with the first meaningless results. But I have insisted, trying to adjust my vision, trying to forget about how I wanted to see things and trying to see things as they were, carpe diem as the motto. And things improved, I think. Started to adjust to the light, the people, anticipating the moments, and forgetting about the gear – had no choice but 50mm after all so stop whining and shoot. Anyway, the result is for you to judge now!

13. Regards - Yerevan

5. Waiting for the Lada

A quick word on my editing choice though as it might surprise some of you: You will not see the marvelous landscapes of Caucasus and the old churches of Armenia here. I have really tried to choose those that I enjoyed the most to capture and those that I felt where conveying something deeper than mere representation of a person or of a thing. That is also the reason why post processing of the black and white pictures aimed at giving an old look, conveying a sort of nostalgia.

8. Latchine - Shot

My keywords before leaving: Armenia is a wonderful country / Caucasus is beautiful and diverse / do what you want and shoot as you want (I have no lesson to teach here) but if you want to free yourself from GAS and gear addiction, go simple, try to travel light with one piece of equipment and shoot, save this money and travel more…. and of course…. I love my MM coupled with the 50APO! Thanks for your attention and I hope you will enjoy this selection!

12. Look in the Lada

You can see my other pictures here – http://www.flickr.com/photos/malikmm/

Jul 132013
 

We march to a different drummer

By John Shingleton

Many months ago I made a resolution not to waste any more time reading the comments on photoblogs/websites and forums as so many are negative in tone. My resolve broke during a long stopover at Dubai airport last month as to pass time I started reading the comments on the web on the new Leica X-Vario. Even I was not prepared for so much negativity,so much angst and so many vindictive comments. And so many of the comments were harsh and negative before the camera had even been officially announced. Now Steve has already commented on this horrible negativity in his review of the X-Vario last week so I will just add that I find it incredible that so many people have the time and the inclination to post so many disparaging comments about a very small German camera manufacturer. What a waste of precious time – better to use it to walk the dog, brush the cat , talk to your partner, play with the children or even take some photos.

Then my thoughts turned to the good folk at Leica and I found myself wondering how they felt about being abused in this way and I quickly decided that they most likely do not care because like me and so many of their customers they march to a different drummer. They are not in the mass market camera business. They produce very individualistic high-end cameras which have an extremely loyal and enthusiastic following and this is their market. And it is not a market of grumpy old men. The enthusiastic uptake of the M9 and the new M models by so many young and up and coming photographers is testimony to the wide and enduring appeal of their products. They do not have to care what the chattering and ill-informed tweeters and commentors say.The X-Vario totally fits the Leica mould .It is not another “me too” camera with virtually the same features as its competitors destined to be discounted in 12 months time to $199 by Amazon and B&H. It appears to have stunning IQ and very straightforward controls and menus. Of course it lacks proper IS and wi-fi and GPS and muliti layered menus and art filters and so on and so on but the point is that the people who will buy it-people like me- do not want these fripperies. We want a tool not an entertainment centre.

Now I am not a young man-a sensitive way of saying that I am in fact old- and my long enthusiasm for photography has previously posted on Steve’s blog  and as I say in that story I have given up on carrying a great heavy bag of gear of camera around on my many travels.

I have been there and done that. My Leica X1 suits me just fine nowadays. In fact it does more than that because in the two years I have owned it I have taken more photos which I am really happy with than in my previous 50 odd years of photography. The combination of a fixed lens which makes me really consider the viewpoint and framing of the photo ,portability of the camera and the very simple controls combined with the superb IQ and that unique Leica feel and “mojo”must explain why I feel so comfortable with it. I have just returned from a 3 week trip to France and I have included some photos from that journey below and my photos from Myanmar also taken with the X1 appeared HERE.

The X-Vario won’t tempt me on because I have really found a rhythm with my X1 and also the X-Vario seems to be substantially bigger than the X1. However I do understand why Leica have made it and I do totally understand that they march to a different drummer.

John

http://therollingroad.blogspot.com/

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Jun 272013
 

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The Leica X Vario Real World Use Review: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

By Steve Huff

Buy or check out the X Vario at B&H Photo HERE  - You can also pick it up at Ken HansenPopFlash.com, or the Pro Shop

 

Hello to all and as always, I hope every single one of you is having a HAPPY and amazing day, I know I am! Right now I am on a plane from Seattle heading back home to Phoenix, AZ after the hugely successful Palouse Road Trip. I had a blast and took some great shots with a few cameras, including the Leica X Vario.

With quite a few images under my belt as well as opinions of others who also tried out the camera during the Palouse event, I have 100% come to my conclusion about this camera.  Is it a winner or a loser? Whatever I think may not matter though as this camera was judged out of the gate due to the specs, which on paper, look awful. In other words, there is a lot of hate, bitterness and negativity surrounding this release and not just from Leica users but also from users of other types of cameras. It’s as if they let the attack dogs loose.

I know why this is though, and understand why that there are so many X Vario haters. It is the fault of Leica for promoting it as a Mini M. End of story. The X Vario is far far far from a Mini M. But with all of that out of the way, just how good of a camera is the X Vario? I hope to shed some light on that question in this review that is filled with images from the camera, with many full size images from RAW, as well as my honest and truthful thoughts.

Click the image for full size – X Vario at 28mm and f/8

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The Leica X Vario is the APS-C sensor size camera from Leica that promises big IQ, super build and a great simplistic user experience. It has the style of the M 240 shrunk down but with a long and large and heavy slow aperture zoom lens mounted. All for a big whopping $2850.

I managed to get a review unit sent to me by B&H Photo and have been using it and putting it to the test in many situations. Below are my thoughts…

BUT! Before anyone comments on this review with attacks and hate, know these facts:

  • I use ALL cameras that are on the market. I try them all. I have no favoritism to any brand and I keep and use what I truly love. The cameras I own are from Leica, Sony and Olympus. All fantastic for me and what I use a camera for. I say it like it is and do not go out to please or offend anyone. I am just honest.
  • What I write here is from my own experience when shooting the camera and I will post the good with the bad, like it or not.

Disclaimer: COMMENTING

Basically, I am not interested in comments from those who just want to comment for negativity. It seems that the Leica X Vario is a camera that has polarized quite a few people and for some reason, this has brought out hate and anger, which is always nasty and no good in life. So keep comments civil and relevant. If you do not , they will be removed. Simple. If you start posting hateful comments that attack me or anyone else here you will be deleted, plain and simple. I have a low tolerance for hate, bitterness, jealousy or idiotic comments from people who have no clue what the facts are. So keep the commenting civil and on topic please. Again, no personal attacks or slurs, no anger and hatred towards anyone and keep it on topic. Oh, and NO spam. Thank you :)

 ZURFRONT

With that said, let us get started on the Leica X Vario Review!

Many of you know the massive negative press that has surrounded the Leica X Vario release and this is all mainly due to two reasons: 

1. The fact that Leica promoted and teased us with a “Mini M” when in fact they delivered a “Monster X”!

2. The fact that the Leica Vario is stuck with a slow aperture 28-70 Zoom starting at f/3.5 for the wide end and f/6.4 by the time you hit 70mm. At 50mm you are already at f/5.1! 

Add to this list that the camera is $2,850, more expensive that the ASTOUNDING Sony RX1 or new RX1R that not only has a full frame sensor, solid metal build and a 35 f/2 Zeiss lens without an AA filter! The Sony is a master of available light photography. That is its claim to fame in my opinion. Day or Night, Pub or Landscape..it is ready to roll. I can shoot the RX1 in B&W at  ISO 25,600 in a dim pub and get great moody results that I would use and print and I feel that Leica should be able to accomplish the same, but with the Vario that is a no go. The X Vario does not have this capability. Not even close. But it does have a talent that some of you may enjoy.

Since I titled this review: “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” I will go over each area starting with “THE GOOD” of the X Vario:

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A video overview of the Leica X Vario

Before I get to the Good let me answer this question: “So what is the X Vario”?  Basically, the camera is an X2 sensor camera (PS-C 16 Megapixels, older sensor) with a slow zoom for $2,850. In any case, B&H Photo asked if I wanted to review it and of course I had to. I could not really judge it without using it and even when I trash talked it, I had a disclaimer saying that these were just my thoughts on the release and they are subject to change with use.

So what do I think after shooting it extensively in The Palouse and in other situations?

 Ashwin Rao and his Finacee Jen – ISO 1600 with the X Vario inside a restaurant (dim lighting)

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It’s Built like a Leica – Made in Germany – It is NOT a Panasonic!

As I took the X Vario out to shoot during the Palouse road trip I was very happy with the build of the camera. It felt like it was built with a quality that is sorely lacking in todays mirrorless cameras. Most cameras like the Fuji X100, X-E1 and to some extent the Sony NEX series all feel more on the cheap side when you really look closely at the build quality. They work, and they take great photos and yes, they feel just fine but the build is on the cheaper end. If you have never held a real Leica then you would not understand and possibly would be in denial saying I am lying (it happens)!, but it is no lie. Leica cameras are built well and the X Vario is no exception. I love the feel of the Fuji X100 though, one of my fave camera designs in recent years.

BUILD QUALITY: This is not a rebadged Panasonic, this is a real German made Leica with a real German made Leica lens. When you hold it you know you are not holding a cheap camera. This is good but also causes an issue or two (which I will get to soon)

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So when you first open the X Vario you will appreciate what it is, what it feels like and the beautiful design. But what about using it? After charging the small battery you can clip it in at the bottom and start shooting. When I turned on the Vario I lifted it to my eye and then remembered..there is no EVF built in at all! This kind of camera should indeed have an EVF or VF of some sort built in but I had the external so attached it and started to shoot. I feel the same way with the RX1..it should have had an EVF built in. But somehow these companies would rather sell us an accessory for $500 than to include it in the design.

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Remember, this section is all about the GOOD of the Vario. I will get into cons down below.

The Auto Focus is Good, but not GREAT!

In real use the AF is “medium fast” in good light. What I mean by that is that if you take the X Vario out in the sunshine you will have decent to superb AF performance. If you shoot in good light you will also be rewarded with beautiful files out of your camera. The color, the detail and the sharpness is just about as good as it gets from APS-C. Second to none, and no the Fuji’s can not beat it or match it. The IQ has a crispness and acuity to it that is hard to describe in words, but it is there.

But, if you shoot indoors or in dim light, be prepared for frustration (more on that below).

FULL SIZE FILES FROM RAW FOR YOU TO LOOK AT with an X-E1/Zeiss vs Leica X Vario file!

Click on the images below to see the full size 16MP output. These are all from RAW with some slight enhancements to contrast. saturation and sharpness. I basically made them ready for print so they are sharper than normal. Feel free to print them if you like.

BUT YOU MUST CLICK THEM TO SEE THEM FULL SIZE. This is what the X Vario can do image quality wise.

Palouse Falls..gorgeous rendering. I also shot this with the M 240 and a 15 as well as the Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss 12mm Touit, which is beautiful as well and a $2000 combo. I will show both the X Vario and Fuji full size shots but the Vario was shot at 5.6 and Fuji at f/8. I thought they were both f/8 so take this as not a sicenticic comnparison but as a comparison showing what each combo would do with the scene and color, etc. The Zeiss is a 24mm equiv and the Leica a 28mm equiv.

Variofalls

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Now, the Fuji X-E1 with Zeiss 12mm Touit (which is a superb lens)

Fujiwith12

If you download both of the files above you will see that the Leica looks great at 100%. The Fuji also looks great but it does still have that issue with Adobe conversions. Look closely at 100%. In any case, both are great and would print wonderfully. The Fuji combo comes in at about $2000 as the Zeiss is a $1250 lens. You could take that extra $800 you save over the Leica and buy the Fuji 18-55 Zoom and still have a couple of hundred left over. But if given those options, I would take the Leica. FACT: The Fuji is not made as well as the Leica and is not as simplistic nor is it as nice in the design, but it is a capable camera. It feels different though. While shooting it with the 12mm, which is a high quality wide angle I started to see what it could do, but again, for scenes like this, most cameras will do fantastic :)

In any case the Leica feels like a Leica. The Fuji, well..I will leave it at that.

Behind the Scenes: Here is an image of me taking the shot below this photo. Photo of me by Bob Towery  – (NOT with the X Vario)

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and the photo I was taking? This is it, click it for full size!

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Another full size image of Sarf from the X Vario who attended our Palouse Road Trip. Look at the detail in his face, which is where I focused. Amazing color here as well. DR looks good. No mush.

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So the camera delivers the goods when shooting in good light but so do many other cameras that cost much less!  I shot this trip with a variety of cameras including my M 240 (you can see those shots HERE), a Fuji X-E1 with Zeiss Touit lenses and even a few with Ashwin Rao’s Pentax 645D. ALL of the cameras, even my iPhone, did good in this light and scenery. Of course the phone did not match the others but when viewing on the phone, it looks really good :) The Vario sort of blew me away because the lens is A+ excellent. Those who have never seen it, held it, or tried it but trash it or call it a crap lens are delusional and have no clue about the reality of the lens. It’s solid, but slow but damn good.

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IQ is Top Notch in Good Light, Not bad in low light

The X Vario, for me, beat the Fuji X-E1 slightly for color and IQ. Again, I have no axe to grind nor am I showing favoritism. It is what it is and my own opinion. BUT…that is not the end of the story. The Fuji held its own and I would not be unhappy with the IQ coming from it, and I was not, not at all. In fact. the Fuji files looked quite nice. The question is this: Is the Leica worth $1000-$1500 more than the Fuji X-E1 and 18-55 Zoom Lens? Hmmmm. It is if you want a real Leica. If you could care less about that, then it probably is not. Not technically anyway.

Also, if you feel that corner to corner sharpness is worth that cost, the X Vario may be up your alley as the lens on this guy, while painfully slow, is very sharp and very Leica like. In fact, it does not get any sharper in APS-C. The Sony NEX-7 with a great lens is sort of there but with a different color flavor. The X Vario lens is Superb when it comes to sharpness, distortion, CA and color. Period.

High ISO

ISO performance was very good. Not Fuji Good, not Sony RX1 good, and not quite as good as most modern cameras, but it gets very close. At ISO 1600 it was usable and acceptable. ISO 1000 looked great. See below for proof:

ISO 1000 – this was taken indoors and there was some light coming in on his face, this is how I was able to nail the focus with AF. Without that light, the AF would have failed or taken 1-2 minutes to get a lock from having to constantly retry. The color I see from this camera is exactly like the color I had coming from the X1 and X2.

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This shot was taken at ISO 1600, 28mm, f/3.5. The IQ is there no question. 

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So with ISO performance like this, the slow zoom on the X can almost sort of be understood. While you will never get shallow DOF like you can get from an M with a fast lens, you can take pictures in lower light situations, sometimes..as long as the light is not too low because then the camera will not focus very well. This is where manual focus can work for you though, and the MF of the Vario is VERY good and nice to use. It will just be a slow process.

The greens look great from the X Vario – This is a resized JPEG

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So the Leica is a superb image quality camera. But is that all it has going for it? Build and IQ with superb sharpness? Is that not everything we need in a camera? Well, not exactly! What about other things such as lower light, depth of field control, shooting in less than perfect daylight, grip, battery life, etc? Well, that all falls under the “Bad and the Ugly” categories :)

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The X Vario while having superb Leica build and design as well as delivering gorgeous photo results in good light is not perfect, nor close to it. In fact, it is far from it. I have always said that no camera is perfect but the X Vario has a few things wrong with it. I will list them off below in this “BAD” section but keep in mind, I still have to get to the UGLY! Either way, the IQ rocks in good light. If you like the “look” of these files no other camera will give it to you besides the X1 or X2 but the X Vario is the fastest to AF of the three as well as being larger and with a better menu/software setup. But let us see what is wrong with the camera, at least in my use. Details after the pic!

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It’s Awkward to hold

The Leica X Vario while having that nice design and build looks awkward. It is large, almost M sized but thinner and slightly smaller. The lens is so heavy it makes the camera front heavy and because of this, it feels awkward in the hand when shooting. There is no grip and it needs one badly. For me, it feels odd shooting it as it does not have a built in VF and is front heavy. If a camera does not feel good in my hand then I will not use it, I will not bond with it and I will not be inspired by it. One reason I never bonded with X-Trans Fuji’s is due to the dodgy AF they had early on as well as the (what I feel are) flat files that come from them in some lighting. 

So the feel of the X Vario fails in my book. The lens is too large. You will need the Grip accessory which will set you back another $200+. 

It’s Awkward to Shoot

When shooting there is no EVF to look through unless you shell out $500 for the Leica EVF or $250 for the Olympus EVF-2. Even then, with the EVF attached the camera looks quite odd..and LARGE. When you start getting to this size you have to ask yourself..why don’t  I just go buy a Fuji X-E1 or X-Pro 1 and a 18-55 Zoom? Maybe a Sony NEX-7 with zoom or better yet, a Ricoh GR with the APS-C Zoom that will come in at less than $800 and deliver results just about on par with the Leica. Hmmm. Because there is no grip, it is uncomfortable holding the  camera out to frame. IMO, the EVF is mandatory so expect to add that extra cost if buying the camera.

So add another $250-$500 for the EVF depending on which one you get.

Battery Life

Battery life is short. I was able to manage a couple hundred shots but my M goes for 3 days. To be fair, the Sony RX1 batteries are puny in life as well so expect to buy 2 extra batteries with the Vario as battery life is below average. You may be able to get 300-320 if you do not chimp.

Buy two extra batteries, another $200 or so

It’s not for Moving Subjects

The camera is not meant for action. I tried shooting some kids walking or moving and it just was not having it. This was out in daylight. Missed the shots and the camera just can not focus on anything moving. This is a camera where you will need control over your subject. Same as the X1 and X2 really. You can capture those shots though of you use manual zone focusing and set your aperture to f/8 or so. Then the camera becomes an easy street shooter. But you can not do this with AF.

AF in low light is SLOW

Shooting in low light? If so, forget the X Vario. At a dinner I passed around the X and asked everyone to take some shots and let me know what they thought. Keep in mind, 90% of these guys are Leica shooters who love Leica. By the time the camera came back around the comments sounded something like this:

“If I owned this camera I would be throwing it against the wall”

“Is this for real or a joke”

“It wont focus”!

“That laser light is bliding me”! (Speaking of the light that helps to aid AF)

No one liked it. Not one said they would buy one. Most of these guys were shooting M’s and were Leica’s core customer. They said NO GO just due to the fact that in dim light the AF was failing badly. This would not be so bad if we were speaking of a $500 NEX system but this is a $2850 camera and we also had a NEX-5R at the Table that focused super fast (though it did misfocus twice). The Vario was frustrating unlike shooting it at The Palouse in the daylight. In good light it was speedy, snappy and delivered consistent results with gorgeous colors, AWB, detail right out of the box. In low light it was frustrating to use.

When the camera DID focus, it did an OK job at these higher ISO’s though. Below is an ISO 12,500 shot direct from camera – JPEG B&W.

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So the bottom line for low light? It’s not a good REALLY low light camera unless you want to use Manual Focus, which works good actually, but it will slow you down. Also, usually in low ambient light I like to shoot images that portray fun, have some character to them, some glow. The X Vario files were fantastic as long as I got some light in the subject. So sometimes it will NAIL IT and look amazingly good. The lens is excellent on this guy as long as you have enough light to focus and give a nice lower ISO.

An X Vario shot of Bo Lorentzen (taken by Ashwin Rao) while having lunch. Love the light here and in this situation the X Vario rocked it. Click it for larger. EXIF embedded.

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As you can see above it worked well in a cafe with ambient light. So it is only when the light gets low or dark that you will need to put away the X. But landscape guys, this one is a lovely piece of kit.

For Example, our Guide in the Palouse, Ryan McGinty said he would buy one if he could as he was in love with what it could do. He shoots in The Palouse almost every day as he lives there. He got to see the output from the Leica Vario, the Fuji and other cameras and he said that no other camera files that he saw did it like the X. He has no bias either as he shoots with a Nikon and an old Film camera.

So if you are strictly a daylight shooter, it can and will work for you. If you shoot in ambient medium indoor light like the image above, it can work for you as long as you stay at 28mm and f/3.5. If you shoot street, action, or at night, go for an RX1 or Leica M or Fuji X100s because the Vario can not do those things well unless you only shoot in Manual Focus. If that is OK with you, the X Vario does indeed deliver the goods in most situations.

SO what about the “UGLY”. Are there things about the Vario that are so bad that I would deem them to be “UGLY”? Well, yes there are.

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That damn control dial on the back!

Everytime I went to shoot this camera and hold it in my right hand as I always do my palm would activate the flash menu on the control dial on the back, which is placed right where you hand goes. I thought it was only me but it happened to several others. You go to frame a shot, you look through the EVF and BAM! Your image is gone and replaced by the flash menu because the lack of a grip on this front heavy camera. I searched and searched and found no way to disable that dial, so that frustrated the hell out of me, big time. Made me not want to use it as it happened EVERY TIME. If I was on a pro shoot with it I would have put it back in my bag and used something else.

Nice detail, color and light here – click it for larger

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The Aperture of the Lens

This has been talked about to death on the forums and is one reason why there is so much hate for this camera. The big slow lens. When I say slow, I am not talking about slow to AF but slow Aperture. While the camera is no speed demon for Auto Focus, in good light it can get the job done easily as long as you are not trying to shoot anything moving. In other words STATIC is the name of the game with the Vario.

With such a slow aperture you may find yourself outside shooting at 70mm on a cloudy or gloomy day and having to bump up to ISO 800 because you have to be at f/6.4, which is wide open at 70mm. OUCH!

Even at 28mm you will get 3.5 which is OK, but far from fast. The only way you CAN really shoot indoors is at 28mm because once you zoom into 50 or 70mm you will NOT have enough light for a fast enough shutter speed and you will get a blurred image. There is a built in flash and some will be happy to use it.

But this lens is slow and therefore a one trick pony type of thing. It does that one trick extremely well though.

At 28mm you will be at f/3.5. By 50mm you will be at f/5.1 and by 70mm you will be at f/6.4. You will need light.

The lens is very sharp! I found myself always shooting at 28mm, well, 95% of the time. This way I could at least be at f/3.5

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Leica said they had to keep the lens aperture slow to keep the size down so they can make the camera compact. The only problem is, the camera is very large as it is and NOT compact. I feel if they did a faster f/2.8 28-50 it would have been a better choice. 28-35-50. Add a VF and bingo. Some people love to stop down though so if you are one of those shooters, the X Vario could be your cup of tea :)

No Real Image Stabilization

This camera is advertised as having Image Stabilization which would help with the slow lens. The problem is that it is the same I.S. that is in the Leica X2 and it just does not work well. It is software based. I did in fact test it and there is in fact a slight improvement but it is nothing like real I.S. But damn, sometimes you have to say SCREW IT. Once you look at the output and the colors coming out of this camera it makes you want to just forgive it for its little quirks. In some ways, the IQ beats the M – much more crisper, and better OOC colors and WB.

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Depth of Field

This camera will never give you the kind of images that many associate with a Leica M. Nope, this Mini M just cannot do it due to the lens being so slow in Aperture. To get those nice blurred background effects to isolate your subject you need a fast lens. Something like a 50 1.4. At 50mm, the Vario is at f/5.1 and does not really give you any isolation of anything. Again, some prefer this and in some situations it is the way to go.

In many cases, you WANT large DOF.

But even then…I was shooting a scene in The Palouse with some cattle. I had my M 240 and Voigtlander 15, the Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss 12mm and the Vario. I was shooting the M without any issue, getting some cool wide angle shots. I then slapped a 50 on it and took a portrait of a little girl at f/1.5. Gorgeous results with both (see those here). Then the Fuji and 12mm, which is a SUPERB lens, gave me wonderful results as well. The Fuji focused very fast with the 12mm and it is a combo I started to fall for  in the wide angle realm. The combo of the X-E1 and 12mm is a nice one, and very fast and sharp. I may not always prefer Fuji output but it gave me some beautiful images using that Zeiss 12mm Touit.

The Vario on the other hand was a pain. It would not focus fast enough so I missed three shots with it right from the get go. In the bag it went. I was able to get a couple of static shots though.

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The Price

Finally, the cost. At $2,850 there are other choices that I feel are better. Namely, the Sony RX1 or new RX1R without AA Filter. The Sony cameras are SUPERB in build, feel and have one of the best 35mm lenses attached. It is an f/2 35mm Zeiss lens that gives amazing detail, character and can be a low light monster. The Sony is one hell of a camera and would be my choice over the Vario if you want to spend $2850. BUT if you prefer the style, design and the images from the Leica and do not mind a slow zoom, this could be something you adore. It does give you pride of ownership due to the beauty and build of the camera. The IQ is in a league of its own and is much different than any other APS-C or Full Frame camera. Vibrant, Alive and Beautiful.

I buy cameras for my own use that perform. For me to buy a camera I have to love shooting it, feel confident in what it can do, it has to be versatile and it has to be made well and offer IQ that is at the top of the game. This is why I own and shoot a Leica M and a Sony RX1. For me, I could care less about name. In fact, my M is now all covered by clack dots to hide the red dot and M logo. I could care less about all of that as I am not a guy with loads of cash who buys Leica for that dot. In fact, I do not know of any people that do. Everyone I know who shoots Leica loves them for what they give back to their photography wether that is emotional, physical or in the quality of the images.

Everyone I have met from uber rich to well off to low end of the income pole all love their Leica M’s because it is a camera that has something about it that no other does. The ones who do not shoot with one hate it when I give props to it but I am tellilng it like it is. A camera is much more than output of the final print. It also has a ton to do with feel, emotion, bonding and getting to really know and enjoy your camera. The M and RX1 offer me this. The more I use the Vario, the more I start to feel that it could also do the same..but it is taking some time to bond with.

Truth be told, for $2,850 I would have expected a faster lens, an included hood or a camera that is much more versatile. If I were spending $2850 today it would be on the new Sony RX1 without the AA filter or it would go towards my Desert Island camera, the M 240 (which I already own, and is already wearing in well).

I can not fault it on the QUALITY of images or the QUALITY of the lens.

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fullsewerswamo

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Pros and Cons of the X Vario

Pros

  • The IQ is stunning
  • APS-C Sensor from the X2 But modified for better performace
  • Thinner AA filter than X2
  • The build and lens build is 100% Leica
  • This is NOT a rebadged Panasonic
  • Simplicity is nice
  • Dials on top are sturdy
  • ISO performance is much better than the X1 and X2
  • Packaging is very nice
  • HD Video included if you want to take a short movie
  • Comes with a nice charger and nice leather strap

Cons

  • Camera is too expensive at $2850 for most users 
  • Camera needs a grip as it is front heavy
  • Lens aperture is just too slow for anything but daylight use
  • AF is good in nice light but slow in low light
  • Control pad on back is in the worst place and disrupts shooting
  • No EVF built in but an optional $500 accessory
  • IS NOT a Mini M in any way, shape or form
  • Images lack character in some situations (not much different than other cameras)
  • Battery life is on the short side so you will need another

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My Final words on the Leica X Vario

This was a tough one. While using the camera I had days where I loved it and wanted to buy one due to the output in that perfect lighting at the Palouse yet on other days I was ready to pack it up and ship it back to B&H Photo. It is a camera that can please you one moment with its amazing colors and output and simplicity yet at the same time it can frustrate the hell out of you with its “kind of “limited capabilities.

At $2,850 this is on the high end of APS-C cameras. The X Vario is basically a high end large sensor point and shoot that does offer a different look than the Sony, Fuji and Olympus cameras but is that look worth that extra cash to you? It is a beautiful look indeed.

To those who shoot perfect lighting landscapes, this camera is quite amazing and astounding. Rich detail, nice dynamic range and great color delivers time after time in those situations. But in my use with the camera, as well as others who were with me, the camera failed on function. Holding it is a pain, the back control pad is placed in an awful spot where your palm will activate the flash menu as you try to shoot and the camera feels awkward to hold. Low light performance CAN be good if you can focus the thing but expect to shoot at high ISO. You will need to spend more on it to make it just right – The grip, extra batteries and the EVF. About $1000 extra which brings it to $3850.

High ISO is decent as the ISO 1600 shots I took showed me the detail sticks, just like a Leica should. I can not stress enough that the IQ from this thing is AMAZINGLY good.

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I have never seen a camera release gather so much hatred and anger though and to me this is concerning. Are we all really that miserable in life that we have to come to a website and personally attack others who like camera A or B and not C? Do we have to come here to fight and argue when in reality, there is nothing to argue about. We have an amazing life to live yet this thing is just a tangible object. A camera. There are many cameras and almost all of them can be used for whatever you like to shoot. Differences are there to be seen but in most cases they are small and really do not matter.

The X Vario is one of the best APS-C cameras I have used for daylight shooting but that does not mean others can not as good of a job or take the same shots. This Leica release is for those that want a well made, well built German camera that has a reputation for quality and those who want this camera could care less about shallow DOF or superfast focus or price. Those who want a Leica will buy a Leica.

As I look back at this review and the files I shot with the camera I am VERY pleased with what I see. But for me, the X Vario would not be a contender due to the fact that I can not get shallow DOF when needed, and I could not use it for anything moving quickly or even in dim light. I love cameras that have a light sucking ability :) Cameras like the M with a 50 1.4 or a Sony RX1 or a Fuji with a Leica lens attached. The Vario is just to limited for my daily use. For you it may be a dream.

Leica-X-Vario-handgrip

Yes, the X Vario is beautiful to look at and appreciate, and it will fill a need for some and I applaud anyone who buys a camera that THEY will personally enjoy and love to shoot. That is what it is all about. I get attacked because I do not use Fuji, because I could not bond with the X Bodies. Someone who buys an X Vario should not be attacked because they bought it for a reason and wether that reason is for  the build, IQ or even the Red Dot it does not and should not matter as they bought it for THEM with their own money.

I feel we should enjoy the images coming from all cameras, including this one. Let us worry about what to shoot, where to travel to get shots and what new and exciting things are around the corner. If something is not for you, then ignore it. If it is, go for it as we only live once.

With that said, I am afraid that the Vario may be a sales flop due to  the negativity surrounding it at launch. Sony is releasing amazing things and Fuji is hot on the heels of Leica. C’Mon Leica, step it up and deliver what we really want. A MINI M. This camera with an M mount or a new lens mount that can mount M lenses with an adapter while offering new lenses for a new X “system”. If this camera offered that it would have been a huge hit and it would have sold loads of lenses for Leica. They feel it would have eaten into M sales but that is not true as some will not settle for less than a full frame traditional M.

Overall a solid release with some flaws and a larger price tag, but hey, it’s a Leica!

mouse

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debbyandbaby

Where To Buy The X Vario!

Most of my site sponsors sell the Leica X Vario but B&H Photo was the only one who offered to send me one for review. They have the X Vario in stock at the link below:

Buy or check out the X Vario at B&H Photo HERE

You can also pick it up at Ken Hansen, PopFlash.com, or the Pro Shop

1st shot is ISO 1600, 28mm, f/3.5 – shot by Ryan McGinty at dinner while being passed around

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PLEASE Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site (and the cost these days to keep it going is pretty damn high), so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

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Apr 182013
 

Leica-X2-black-viewfinder-EVF2

Leica needs an “X3″ by Utku Oguz

From Steve…I get many submissions from users and I post about 80% of them, and yes, I will post good with the bad when it comes to others opinions on gear, as long is it is not just an outright attack for no good reason. Utku has some valid points on the Leica X2 here in 2013 when we have cameras such as the X100s, Sony NEX 5 and 6, the Nikon Coolpix A and the upcoming Ricoh GR (all of them MUCH less expensive and more capable than the X2 and all released AFTER the X2). I think Leica needs to rethink what they are going to do with an “X3″ but in reality they should have one already designed. I wonder where they will go with it? In any case, below are the thoughts of one shooter who bought an X2. I like the X2 but do admit newer cameras outdo it in all areas for less money. What are YOUR Thoughts on the X2?

Dear Steve,

I am a great fan of your blog and thanks so much for putting this blog together. Recently I couldn’t resist the beauty of the Leica X2 and I bought one without the EVF. But I must say that I am quite disappointed.

This is truly one of a kind artistic design and apart from using it even only looking at it is a pleasure to the eye.

But when it comes to functionality I will not be able to say the same. But the menus are very intelligently designed in a very minimalist but in a very efficient way. I think this menu design should set an example to other manufacturers as well. The image quality, loyalty of colors to the original (real) situation and sharpness is exemplary. The in-camera “Black and white” option produces surprisingly very detailed gradient tones from very black to the very white. But one should know that, first of all, this is not “super quick” responsive camera. The AF sometimes is not even able to focus correctly or even worse, not able to focus at all.

After ISO 800 the pictures really start getting grainy. I would not recommend this camera to anyone if that person is a “high-ISO pusher” habitually.

I highly doubt if the image stabilization system of this camera really works or not.

And actually on the internet there are even some blogs who claim that the image stabilization system in this camera might even be having a negative effective on the overall image quality.

The back LCD screen is also is not as good as it should have been. In my opinion a world-class lens manufacturer like LEICA should have a much better back screen. As a matter of fact after having used for a while I came to conclusion that if someone wants to buy this camera they should also definitely buy the additional electronic viewfinder as well, with its enormous additional cost of course. But as I didn’t want to pay such a high price for Leica’s dedicated EVF, now I am suffering the consequences. So if one cannot afford to buy this camera together with its EVF, he/she shouldn’t buy this camera in the first place, I think. The -so called- live view functions only when the shutter is half pressed but only for a few seconds and you can hardly catch it.

The camera strap that comes out of the “gorgeous” pack is very difficult to connect to the strap connection holes of the camera. It is a shame that a design leader company like Leica did not think thoroughly about the ergonomics of the strap, which, in my opinion is very essential for the safety of camera and for the health of the neck of the photographer.

Upper adjustment buttons are well designed and very sturdy, eliminating every possibility for accidentally turning them to an unwanted position.

White balance is extremely correct. “Bokeh” effect that is created by its lens absolutely is wonderful.

The package comes with a light room post processing software which is an added value for this camera. You have to download it from Leica’s website from the user’s site.

In my opinion this camera is for the ones who are not after a “super-quick” camera and who can tolerate the cons that I have listed here and in the “Problems” sections. But if you want to be a member of the “Leica-Club” this can be a reasonably good entry at a much more modest price than, say, a Leica M9. For some people the price of this camera can be justifiable but for me definitely not.

If only it could have been possible to vote for separately for the image quality, design, user-friendliness of the menus, consistency and the stability of functionality, value for money.

If that would have been possible I would have rated this camera as follows:

Image quality under “perfect light conditions” 4/5

Design: 4/5 (if it didn’t lack an internal EVF I would have given 5/5 )

Stability of fuctionality/ Delivering what it promises on the spec paper: 3/5

· (Auto focus is not working well under low light conditons; sometimes it is not even to lock to the at all)

· Macro distance gets bigger in the dark conditions and it is much longer than 30 cm.

· After 400 ISO it really gets heavy grains, especially under darker conditions

· Live view shows itself only for less than a second and then disappears (it even doesn’t show truly the “ACTUAL” situation in my opinion)

· LCD Screen not good enough.

Resale Value: Horrible! I don’t even rate it! First of all when I wanted to give back this camera after one day, Leica’s distirbutor in Istanbul refused it. Later on I phoned a freind of mine in Germany

How was the situation in Germany and she told me that even if you used it only for one hour the value was going down more than half and she has verified this from a few shops.

So Leica X2 is a camera that even the Leica shops don’t want back. This has been the most surprising part of my Leica adventure as a matter of fact.

Value for money: 2.5/5

Currently I am using Fuji X-E1 and apart from its rather slow auto-focus, I did not have any of the a/m problems.

It is obvious that Leica X2 has been designed with good intentions but final outcome is not RIPE yet in my opinion and in the existence of new Fujis, Leica should have done a much better job.

Best Wishes,

Utku Oguz

Little Silver Pot in the dark

Turkish Cooks2

Dec 042012
 

Win a Leica X2 at Leicaimages.com 

LeicaImages.com, the online photo gallery of images captured with world-class Leica cameras and optics is pleased to announce its annual photography contest for 2012. Once again, the prize will be provided by PopFlash.com. Thanks to Tony Rose, the owner of PopFlash.com , who is a USA Authorized Leica dealer, the winner will receive a new Leica X2 camera.

The theme this year will be “ A story with available light”. Creating a dramatic image which is enhanced by the use of available natural or artificial light. Simply put, this means no flash photography. The image should draw your attention and keep you interested by the story you can imagine from it and the impact the light has on the subject. Put your imagination and creative skills to work.

This contest is an opportunity for photographers to showcase their work. There are no fees or exchange of services required to participate in the contest. This is simply a way for LeicaImages.com and PopFlash.com to show their appreciation to those who make photography exciting.

We ask that you follow these basic rules and guidelines:

The contest is open to LeicaImages.com members only.
You agree that you are the sole owner of the photograph submitted and are obeying copyright protection laws.
You can submit up to 3 photographs.
You can update, delete or add new photographs as long as it is done before the deadline date
You agree that if you are the winner, Popflash.com and LeicaImages reserve the right to display the winning image on their website.

Photos must be upload to the category “2012 Contest”
File sizes and limitation are displayed at the bottom of the upload page.
Deadline for submissions are Midnight GMT -8 Feb 28, 2013.

How the Judging will take place after the contest closes

After the contest is closed, do not attempt to edit a photo in the Contest Category. Doing so will remove the photo from the contest.

  • Make sure your setting under http://LeicaImages.com/usercp.php allows your photos to be rated.
  • The contest entries can be viewed here http://leicaimages.com/standardgallery.php?photocategoryid=35&showall 
  • The only votes that will count are from members who have photos in their LeicaImages gallery, or have written comments about other photos in the LeicaImages gallery.
  • Only votes cast after the contest closes will be counted.
  • When the voting period has ended, no more voting will be allowed on the contest entries.
  • Rate the photos from 1 to 5. If you do not rate a photo, it will count as a zero. All the ratings for each photo will be added up for a total score.
  • The photo with the highest score will be the winner.
  • If there is a tie, the photos from the tie will be open for an additional week of voting.
  • If there is another tie, the site administrator ( yours truly ) will choose the winner from the remaining finalists.

    Comments are appreciated but do not count towards the scoring.

Sep 022012
 

Hey Steve -

I’m attaching a few images which may interest you.

These have been shot in Mumbai, India on the Leica X2 – in “monochrome” – actually in BW high contrast mode!! I really love the overall tonality one can achieve in-camera, without having to convert colour into BW in post-processing. The X-2 does such a cool job of it. Just a few minor touches to ones taste in LR or CS6 and you’re on your way!! Although it doesn’t possess the bells and whistles of its competitors, the photographic IQ of this camera is just incredible!!

Its nothing short of the ideal street camera – the lesser side of an “M”!! Small, stealthy and super slick!!

Keep up the great work with your website!! Always a joy to visit!!

Cheers

Sharookh Mehta

Jul 032012
 

Hello Steve and Hello everybody!

Shortly about my self.

46 years, Male, Danish, use to be pressphotographer from 1985 – 2005. Lost my inspiration, my energy and my “photoway” of thinking. So I gave up and played some bass guitar instead. But I did not sell all my cameras, so on hollidays I took pictures like you do on hollidays. I still have a Nikon D200 and a 17 – 55 mm.

I have had all the professional Nikon cameras, often three or four at the same time. All the good lenses – incl. the brilliant 300mm f 2,8 ;-) The manuel one. AND I had the Leica M6 with some good lenses. I sold everything for digital Nikon system – and then – I gave it all up.

The past three – four years I have taking almost no pictures. Except with my iPhone. I had it always by my side. So I though that if I should have the inspiration back, I had to find a small camera with high quality that I could have on me all the time. I was thinking of my Leica M6 and the way I took pictures when I had that camera in my hand. I was more focussed and more creative than with my Nikon. Don´t ask why. Do anyone have an answer to that ?

I researched around the web and found the Leica X2 test on this site. So here I am. With a black beaty in my hand. Included the electronic viewfinder.

The X2 give me what I need. When I take it in my hand I feel we are a team. I use it fully automatic, and fully manuel – I only take black and white – I expose the pictures in BW and I run them thrue Photoshop and Silver Efex Pro 2. (I do not have the money for a Monochrome. Let´s see if there´s a M10 soon.)

Thanks for the X2 test and thanks for all the stories from around the world. You have all giving me a lot of energy and inspiration back

The chosen photos are all taking when I was on tour.or just down town.

All the best

Lasse Jorgensen

Denmark

 

Jun 302012
 

A question I get several times a week: Can a small mirrorless camera replace a DSLR? 

With the trend in digital photography today heading to the small powerhouse bodies with larger sensors many have dumped their DSLR’s for the likes of  a Sony NEX camera, an Olympus OM-D, a Leica X2, Nikon V1 or one of the many other small mirrorless cameras that are now flooding the market.

It seems that ever since digital cameras started being produced, photography has taken a turn of some sorts. Today, for many, it is just as much about the device being used as it is the images themselves. Many shooters today get more enjoyment out of the GEAR than they do the PHOTOS. This is a true fact, and I try to keep a balance myself as I love the gear but I also love and am passionate about photography. But what is the most important is that people are gaining joy from all of this and if buying a Leica X or Sony NEX makes you happy, then why not?

I feel it is important to use a tool that you can bond with..learn with and thoroughly enjoy. I have had a love affair with smaller cameras over the past few years because I was so tired of lugging a huge backpack around whenever I wanted to go out and shoot.

Back in the earlier digital days DSLR’s were everywhere as we did not even have a choice if we wanted small AND high quality. I remember going to disneyland about 6-7 years ago and seeing everyone with a large DSLR. I remember thinking ‘how could you lug that around Disneyland AND still enjoy your day”? Made my back and arms hurt looking at some of those rigs.

When I was there at DL I waltzed around with a Leica M7 and a few rolls of film and it was no problem though I do remember worrying that the rides would jar the rangefinder out of alignment but even after 3 days there and many rides the RF was fine and even with water splashing on the old M7 I had zero issues. I would not try this with an M9 though as it somehow seems more delicate due  to all of the electronics inside that can have water leak onto them since there is no weather sealing in an M camera. Yet.

Yea, those days with the old M7 were fine indeed. No worries. Compose, snap, shutter and wind. But before I go on a rant about remembering my easy days with the M7 I have to stop myself because that is not what this article is supposed to be about!

Many readers e-mail me and ask me if a small mirrorless can replace a large DSLR. That is a very common question I get these days but you have to remember that these small cameras are usually not as versatile as a DSLR. For example, if you want to shoot sports action, a DSLR will usually be the best bet, though someone like me and a few others would use an M9 without worry, lol.

For sports the only mirrorless choices are really the Olympus OM-D as it has the speed, the lenses, and the high quality and ISO performance that almost matches a nice DSLR. Something like an X2 would not be good for sports with its limited 35mm lens and slow operation. A Nikon V1 could do sports but with the slow zooms available you would need REALLY good light. The AF is good enough as is the IQ if you keep the ISO lower. The Sony NEX series is great for sports as well as you can use some kick ass manual glass to do so.

While the cameras mentioned can do great, a DSLR will still be the sports shooting king so if you are a sports pro a mirrorless would/could not replace a DSLR just yet.

But what about Street? Portraits?

For street I feel a Leica M is king. That is MY opinion as I can shoot a Leica M faster than I can AF with most when on the street. I do not consider myself a street photographer though I do enjoy it and find it to be a great exercise to get your confidence up. Street Photography is nothing more than recording and capturing moments of real life as they happen. This is easier said than done but some people out there are very good at it while others are awful at it. It seems that in the past 2-3 years “Street” has become popular and it has brought out some great photographers but it also seems that there is a lack of REAL street shots with impact, even from old pros who call themselves street shooters because they shoot every week. I think I see maybe 1-2 really fantastic street shots a month from the slew of guys on flickr and Facebook who shoot street every day.

Like I said, I do not call or consider myself “street shooter” though I do shoot with an M and have shot street. I have tried my hand at it with MANY cameras and the Leica M just works. I had a hard time with the original Leica X1 but with that camera and the new X2 you can set the camera to manual focus and use Zone Focusing to shoot quick and easy so they also can work well. The Fuji X100 is also a great street camera as is the Nikon V1 (I have an upcoming Guest article with samples and they have def have impact). The NEX series can also do great with street and I had fun with the NEX-5 and 16mm a year or so ago so just about any mirrorless made today can do street well if you learn the camera and features and best way to shoot with it while out in the urban jungle.

Bottom line? For street I would say a mirrorless is MUCH better than a DSLR as DSLR’s are too large and scare people away. 

How about portraits?

Today I was sitting in my office reading e-mails and noticed I had a slew of cameras around me. A Leica X2, a Sony A57 DSLR with 16-50 lens and a Nikon V1. I also have a Fuji X100, Sony NEX-7 and NEX-F3 here as well (the F3 and A57 are here for  testing right now). I have heard and seen great things from the Sony A57 and 16-50 lens as this lens is super sharp even at 2.8 wide open. It also will keep the 2.8 aperture throughout the zoom range, so this is one of the premo Sony lenses.

My nephew is here visiting so I called him in the room and asked if I could snap 2-3 shots of him with a couple of cameras. I was not even going to post these but after viewing them I was impressed by what the Sony did with that 16-50 Zoom lens at 2.8. The camera seemed to put out a nice file. When viewing the file from the Leica X2 I was also pleased with what I saw. There was that Leica sharpness and detail but it also had a different color signature. The Nikon V1 could not match the richness of the two larger sensor cameras but it can do a good job, but the color is not as good or rich due to the smaller sensor.

First the A57 file with the 16-50 Zoom at 2.8

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The Sony A57 puts out a beautiful rich file but with the camera and zoom lens attached it is MUCH larger than a Leica X2 (but much more versatile, faster, and with gorgeous video) The Sony combo will cost you $1650. $650 for the body and $750 for the lens (and this lens is superb but don’t take my word for it, read the reviews at B&H). The 16-50 lens is a quality lens, easily used for pro work.

The Leica X2 is a small little powerhouse. A little slow when compared to the competition but it is indeed a powerful imaging device put into a small body, that is the one thing that is certain. If you can live with the 35mm focal length and only the 35mm focal length then it is a viable but expensive option. Below you can see the shot from the X2..

Both of those images were shot as RAW files and converted using ACR.

The A57 seems like it has a richer and smoother rendering while the Leica retains that Leica signature. For in studio portraits, as in..if I were a portrait pro, I would choose a nice medium format camera for the absolute best quality. Either that or a Nikon D800 DSLR because in the studio you need all of the quality you can get and even shallow depth of field, which is the weakness of cameras like the Nikon V1 and in some cases Micro 4/3.

1st image is from the Leica X2 and the 2nd is from the Nikon V1

So while a mirrorless like the X2, Nikon V1 and X100 or OM-D can do studio, for more versatility and overall quality cameras like a Nikon D800 or Canon 5D III would be better.

A Sony NEX-7 also works well in studio especially when you mount Leica glass.

The new mirrorless cameras that are available today ALL make for amazing every day cameras. You can take them anywhere, capture anything you want and do it without looking like a big dork with your DSLR, 70-200 and sun visor and fanny pack on. A Leica X2 or Nikon V1 or Fuji X100 can be taken with you where a camera like a Nikon D800 would most likely be left at home. So for capturing life’s little moments smaller is always better. For pro work like weddings, sports, action or even studio a DSLR would give you more versatility and quality.

With all of that said, I would take a Leica M9 anywhere and shoot anything with it :)

Jun 262012
 

Leica X2 Firmware Version 1.1 is ready for download HERE at the Leica site. It is said to improve higher ISO performance past 1600, improve auto white balance and have general overall performance enhancements. What the “general improvements and performance optimization” means I have no clue so I downloaded this firmware myself and tested out some shots at ISO 1600-12,800 and out in my yard to see if the camera still output overly warm colors.

I noticed the AF is actually a bit faster, or at least seems like it is. May be some kind of placebo effect but it seemed much snappier to me while aiming and shooting, and this is good. Feels a bit more responsive so this may be part of the overall optimization.

Here are some high ISO indoor shots this morning – nothing fancy, just snaps for testing – click them to see the full 100% crop embedded – from RAW

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and one more OOC JPEG at ISO 3200

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Below is another OOC JPEG shot in Vivid mode but at ISO 100. When I shot JPEG’s with the X2 and the previous FW I would get a VERY overall warm rendering. While this is very vivid in color it doesn’t seem as warm to me, so this is probably where the AWB was tweaked. 

AWB doesn’t seem to be as “warm”. Just my initial thoughts, remember, I tested it for just these shots to see if I noticed anything so don’t take these as cold hard facts. I have to shoot more with it to see how it goes. But am happy Leica put out a firmware update so fast, which is unlike them :)

UPDATE: I spoke with Sean Reid of Reidreviews.com and he has been testing this new firmware for a while now. Here is what he mentioned:

I’ve been working with various firmware revisions for the X2 for some time now. In his review of the X2, Steve noted that there seemed to be something strange about the ISO 3200 DNG files from the X2. He wrote:

“One thing I found odd is that at ISO 3200 in both sample shots from the X2, the one above of the bottles and the one below of the Polaroid (I tried three times, same results) show a blurred result. These are all from RAW and I did not add ANY Noise Reduction to any of the samples.”
Then, in another article he wrote:

“Here is what gets me scratching my head. In my review of the X2 I have found that anytime you shoot at ISO 3200, even if you convert the RAW and use ZERO Noise Reduction you still get details smearing. This does not happen at ISO 6400 or 12,500, only 3200. You can see the X2 crop below is smeared and blurred from in camera NR that is even applied to the RAW file when you do not want it there.”
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He was right about that. There was a bug in the firmware that caused those files to be smoothed when they should not have been. We didn’t see the same kind of smoothing in the ISO 1600 or ISO 6400 DNG files from the camera and it wasn’t supposed to be happening at ISO 3200 either. So an important change in Firmware 1.1 is that this problem is now fixed. There may some other refinements but, in my view, that’s the key change. I was glad to see Leica release this fix fairly quickly.
Sean also has a review of the X2 up at his paid subscription site, reidreviews.com
Jun 222012
 

Crazy Comparison! Leica X2 vs Nikon J1

OK! Many of you have asked for a Nikon J1/V1 vs Leica X2 comparison to be done as a “Crazy Comparison” so here it is! There are a ton of Nikon 1 series fans who read this site and some of them thought this would make a cool post. So what do I do about it? Well, yesterday I headed down to Sedona AZ and I brought both the Leica X2 and  the Nikon J1 along with the Olympus E-M5 to see how each one would do shooting the same scenes, same aperture. I used the E-M5 for one shot only because this is mainly between the X2 and J1.

Keep in mind that the Leica X2 is $2000 and the J1 is $499 with a kit zoom, bag and SD card. So this is NOT a fair fight which is why it is called a “CRAZY” comparison. Just for fun guys so enjoy it!

The 1st one is from the Leica X2 from RAW – f/5.6 – click it for FULL size file

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and now one from the little Nikon J1 – The sensor is much smaller and the J1 is only 10MP but the file looks pretty good! This one used the 10-30 Kit Zoom at f/5.6 and is from RAW. Click it for full size file.

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and I couldn’t leave out the OM-D E-M5! This one is with the kit zoom at f/5.6

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So here are a few more X2 and J1 comparisons…

The X2 at f/5.6 – from RAW – click it for full size file

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and the J1 file

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One more from the X2 – click it for full size

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and the J1 – same deal, click it for the full size

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So there you go! For those asking this should be cool – a few full size files from each camera. The J1 can put out a sharper (but noisier) file no question, but the X2 has the capabilities to print larger of course. The X2 also has the capability to shoot at f/2.8 and with the larger sensor would help speed, noise and depth of field (for those who want more shallow DOF). I can not tell a lie…in use, the J1 destroyed the X2. It was much faster, focused as fast as lightning, never missed and it was a piece of cake to use and shoot. The X2 was slower, missed a few times and had more motion blur doing indoor shots at the same shutter speeds (due to the IS with the Nikon V1 lenses).

These are two totally different cameras though with the J1 being a glorified point and shoot (but an excellent one at that) and the X2 being a more advanced enthusiast point and shoot :) Below are a couple of shots I snapped inside of a restaurant with each camera. These were not ever meant to even be comparisons and I did not use same settings but it is cool to see that either camera can give good results inside.

The X2

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The J1

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and more from the little $499 J1 – click them for larger versions – I went a little bold on the colors here…

One thing I learned from this test is I still stand by my opinion of the Nikon 1 series and that the J1 is a kick ass little camera for $499 that IMO beats something like a Canon S90 any day of the week. The Leica X2 is also a beautiful camera but is for those with bigger wallets of course, and for those who want the Leica experience, which many of us do it seems!

I am a huge fan of the Nikon V1 and if you are someone who mainly posts to the web and prints 8X10′s or smaller than there really is no need for more camera than this. One thing to also note is that the video on the 1 series cameras is also SUPERB..all Nikon needs to do is release some faster glass for these little guys and then we will really be talking. As for the OM-D, I still have yet to find any issues or problems with it. Flat out great camera, period.

UPDATE: Just for giggles, why not?

Just to test things I snapped this AC unit at f/4 with the X2 and Nikon V1 (yes the V1 not J1) – I used the 10-30 Kit lens for the V1 and both were at ISO 100.

I then took the 10 megapixel file from the V1 and blew it up to 16 Megapixels to match the X2, just to see how bad it would be

Those are 100% crops but you must click the image to see the full size crop!

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and below is the Nikon V1 10 Megapixel native resolution crop – again, to see the full 100% crop click the image

You can see the warm color signature of the X2 (a little bit overly warm IMO) but the V1 is sharper without question. The X2 is “richer” and “warmer” and has less noise of course due to the larger sensor. The V1 has a built in EVF, is much faster, a bit sturdier, has great video capability and is $1850 cheaper (when adding EVF into the costs). I was going to sell my V1 but decided to keep it as it is amazingly fun to shoot and it makes me want to grab it when I go out the door, moreso than the other cameras around here.

I do not get the creamy files of an X100 or the color of the X2 or the lenses of the OM-D but I do get no muss, no fuss, sharp images and huge DOF, which sometimes is a good thing.

Jun 102012
 

For those who were waiting..the new comparison – Leica X2 and X100!

As you have seen in my last post I found that a new Leica X2 that was sent to me with the official Version 1 firmware seemed to be much sharper than the one I had for review (the one Leica sent as a review loaner) which had a previous Firmware version on it, which was obviously not final. After more boring test shots today it is clear that there is some kind of issue with the review sample X2 as the new one I have received is much sharper. It does not seem possible that a firmware revision would have any effect on focus or lens quality so either this review sample has an issue or was dropped or just was not right out of the factory.

I took a new test shot today just to see if each X2 would perform the same. Both were set at f/4, ISO 100, 1/500s. So same settings, same model camera. But as you can clearly see, the new one did much better. I also threw in a crop from the Fuji X100 (f/4 – ISO 200 – 1/900s) for those who are interested. You can clearly see the color difference as well. These were converted from RAW with ACR.

Ok this is the test shot. Below the image you will see the crops from each camera. 

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100% crop #1 – from the new X2 with version 1.0 firmware

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100% crop #2 – from the review sample X2 with pre-production firmware – It appears to be out of focus but the camera confirmed and locked focus and the shot was taken three times. Same result.

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100% crop #2 – From the Fuji X100

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So there you go. The Leica X2 is sharper than I had previously thought simply due to the fact that the review sample was not focusing correctly or had some issue with the lens assembly. Results look to be on par with the old X1 but of course with more megapixels and better low light and high ISO performance. After shooting both the X2 seems a little quicker to AF than the Fuji X100. It’s close though. Below are a couple of more test shots to show how sharp the X2 really is. I updated some sections of the X2 review as well. Thanks to all for reading!

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and one with some PP – converted with Alien Skin Exposure

Jun 092012
 

A tale of two Leica X2 cameras

(This one is for you Betty) :)

Hey guys! Happy weekend, it is Saturday and I plan on relaxing some today but just so happened a package was delivered to me today thanks to the speedy shipping of Leica dealer Mr. Ken Hansen. What was in the box? A new black Leica X2 and with newer firmware than what was on the review sample Leica sent me (The review sample seemed to have some sort of prototype firmware, which I did not realize until last week). In any case I snapped off a few shots out in my yard and not only does this new X2 seems “snappier” than the other one it also seems a little sharper AND is giving me different AWB results which means different color and not as “warm” as what I was getting from the 1st. Not sure if its sample variation or if it is the firmware.

So I will test this one out further and if it does indeed give better performance than the review sample I had I will do another comparison  - this time with the old X2 and the X100 again so we have all three. I will also update my X2 review if this is the case.

UPDATE: One quick sample with both. f/2.8, 1/200s, ISO 100 on both – either the review sample is not focusing correctly (though it confirmed focus) or it is not as sharp..and I think that it is not focusing correctly 100% of the time. Remember, the review sample did not have final firmware.

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One quick test for sharpness wide open with the new X2 and Firmware 1.0  - click it for larger and full crop – it is SHARP. The sharpest result yet from the X2 for me.

 

and a self portrait wide open  - click to see the sharpness

and check out how sharp this is (click it to see this test shot)

ENJOY THE WEEKEND! It’s a hot one here in Phoenix again!

**Oh, and in case you are wondering..no, I was not aware that the FW of the original review sample X2 was not final as I was told by Leica that this was a factory fresh ready to go X2 and that I could even purchase it if I wanted. So I assumed this was it, ready to roll until I spoke with Sean Reid a few days ago who told me that FW I had was not a final FW. 

See my FINAL comparison HERE

Jun 012012
 

Look what popped into my house. The Black Special Edition Fuji X100!

I could not resist. I went ahead and ordered a black X100 kit. Partly because I love all black, partly because I really do like the X100 quite a bit and partly because i wanted to see how it is with the new firmware, which I have not yet experienced. I also wanted to see how it stands up next to the new Leica X2. I made a video showing me taking it out of the box and I have to say it is much sexier in person that it is in photos. MUCH better looking than the X-Pro 1 IMO. Sleeker, smaller, and even more stealthy. Yes, this black kit is $500 more than the standard X100 but still $400 less than a Leica X2.

The SE kit has the extra though and when you pick up one of these kits you also get a black full case that strips down to a half case, and it fits very well. You get a filter for your lens and a lens hood and adapter. These are all extras that you would have to buy for your standard X100 so in reality, buying this black kit sets you back an extra $250 or so just to have all black and a limited edition set. This is Fuji milking the X100 much like Leica milks their models. If it works for Leica, why not Fuji?

In any case upon taking it all out and looking it over I have to say it is amazingly gorgeous and much nicer looking than the silver, but this is my opinion. The case is quality, the camera feels a little bit more sturdy than an X2 and as for focus speed? Well, I updated the FW to the latest and greatest and have to say it is much much faster than it used to be. MUCH more responsive than the X-Pro 1 and 35 1.4. The whole menu system is fast as well. So far so good.

Check out the video of the black X100 below to witness its sexiness :)

So my house is loaded with cameras and I feel a bit overwhelmed but am happy as can be as I love it! I also just received a Sony A57 and a couple of lenses and just had to return the D800 which put out some amazing files (more on this one soon). But today, right now, I am in the mini mode of the X2 and X100. Seeing that the X2 is new I was curious to see if the X100 could still match it in all aspects. So this weekend I will be doing some shooting with the X100, X2, NEX-7 and OM-D. I attached the Olympus 17mm 2.8 to the OM-D to see how it would do and it’s doing mighty fine on the new Olympus. Giving me the same 35mm view as the X2 and X100.

The facts are that today, in 2012, all of these cameras are REALLY great at image quality. The ones we choose to work with are all down to our hearts and preferences. It is getting to the point where digital has matured that any something like an OM-D or X100 could last us for MANY MANY years.

In any case, I am doing this comparison all weekend but here is a quick sample from the X100, X2 and OM-D. All at f/4, all with a 35mm equiv lens.

UPDATE – THE COMPARISON WAS RE-DONE AND IS NOW POSTED HERE. THANK YOU!

May 302012
 

Leica X2, Sony NEX-7 and Olympus OM-D – One more quick comparison! Sharpness, color and DOF

Just thought I would post one more comparison between these three cameras while I could. Basically, this is just to show what will come out of each camera in the same light, same moment, same aperture. Each camera was shot at its base ISO of either 100 or 200 and the matrix/evaluative style metering was used on each camera so it could choose its own exposure. Just wanted to show what comes out in regards to sharpness, depth of field and color. DOF will be different on the Olympus as I am using a 25mm lens on a 2X crop sensor. Still, what you see is what you get. X2 and NEX-7 will give a 35mm equivalent and the 25 on the OM-D a 50mm Equivalent.

Each image was resized down to OM-D size of 16MP. So the Sony was resized from its native 24MP to 16. You can click on any image for the full size file, processed from RAW.

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